Chicago Cardinals Hall of Famer dies at 100

ATLANTA — Pro Football Hall of Famer Charley Trippi, the Heisman Trophy runner-up in Georgia who then led the Chicago Cardinals to the NFL championship in 1947, died Wednesday. He was 100 years old.

The University of Georgia announced that Trippi passed away peacefully at his home in Athens.

Trippi was one of the most versatile players in football, occupying several positions in attacking, defensive and special teams. He is the only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to have rushed for 1,000 yards, receiving and passing in his career.

The son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, Trippi had a simple explanation for his dazzling array of skills.

“In those days, the more things a player did, the more salary he could demand,” Trippi said, according to his biography at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I could run, kick, pass and catch, and that made me valuable property.”

Trippi played college football in Georgia in the 1940s, his career interrupted by a stint in the military during World War II. He led the Bulldogs to a Rose Bowl victory, finished second to Army’s Glenn Davis for the 1946 Heisman Trophy, and was the Cardinals’ first draft pick.

He then played in the “Dream Backfield” for the Cardinals, leading the franchise to an NFL championship in 1947. The franchise, which moved to St. Louis in 1960 and to its current home in Arizona in 1988, never has not won another title since.

“If you know anything about his Georgia legend, you know he was maybe the greatest all-around football player on our campus,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “Many historians and observers have said that, and reading about him, I understand why.”

On December 14, 2021, Trippi may have celebrated the crowning achievement of a remarkable life. He turned 100, becoming the second member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to reach the century mark. Clarence “Ace” Parker died on November 6, 2013 at age 101.

Smart was among those who stopped by Trippi to help celebrate with a cake topped with 100 candles. Despite his fragile health, Trippi managed to blow them all up.

“Being such a good second effort athlete, he wouldn’t stop until he destroyed them all,” Smart said. “I was really fulfilled.”

Charles Louis Trippi was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania just as America was entering the golden age of sports in the 1920s.

According to an oft-repeated story, Trippi’s family couldn’t afford to buy him soccer cleats, but he kicked so well in his regular shoes that his high school coach, Paul Shebby, stepped in to make the purchase. One day in punt formation, after snapper passed the ball over Trippi’s head, he ran to pick it up and made his way to a touchdown that showed he was much more than a one-dimensional player.

Trippi received a scholarship to play for the Bulldogs through his connections to a Coke bottler — who was also a Georgia alumnus — in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

As a sophomore in 1942, he played on a Georgia team led by Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich. In a 75-0 rout of rival Florida, Trippi ran for two touchdowns, threw another and scored a fourth on an interception return. Georgia finished 11-1 and was chosen as the national champion in multiple polls, although the Bulldogs were No. 2 in the Associated Press rankings behind Ohio State.

Georgia capped off the season with a 9-0 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Trippi carried 27 times for 115 yards, also handled passes and clearances, and was retroactively named the game’s most valuable player when the award was established in 1953.

Trippi missed the entire 1944 season and part of 1945 serving in the military. He returned to Georgia to complete his college career in 1946.

Also a stellar baseball player, Trippi played one season with the Atlanta Crackers, a powerhouse minor league franchise at the time. He hit .334 in 106 games while drawing large crowds to Ponce de Leon Park. Even though several big league teams tried to sign him, Trippi decided that football offered his best chance of success.

Charley Trippi, left, signs a four-year, $100,000 contract with the Chicago Cardinals on January 17, 1947 in Chicago, under the watch of coach Jimmy Conzelman, center and owner Charles Bidwell.

Still, baseball played a role in Trippi’s professional football career. In 1946, he was at the center of a huge bidding war between the NFL Cardinals and the New York Yankees of the fledgling AII-America Football Conference.

The football Yankees were so sure he would agree to a joint contract to play for them and the legendary baseball team of the same name that they called a press conference to announce the deal.

But Trippi ended up signing a then-unprecedented four-year, $100,000 deal with the Cardinals to complete the “Dream Backfield” that also included Elmer Angsman, Paul Christman and Pat Harder.

During Trippi’s rookie season with the Cardinals, the team won what remains its only undisputed NFL crown.

The 1947 title game took place at Comiskey Park, where the Cardinals hosted the Philadelphia Eagles on a baseball diamond turned football field covered in a thin layer of ice on an extremely cold day.

Unable to get much traction in his cleats, Trippi switched to a pair of trainers. He led the Cardinals to a 28-21 victory, scoring a pair of touchdowns on a 44-yard rush and a 75-yard punt return.

“The only time I played an NFL game in tennis shoes was in Chicago for our championship team,” Trippi said in a 2014 interview. tennis shoes. You couldn’t stand with crampons.

Weather again played a huge role the following year when the Cardinals returned to the title game for a rematch against the Eagles at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. A blizzard hit the town, dumping so much snow on the field that players couldn’t even see the yard lines.

The Cardinals, who averaged nearly 33 points in an 11-1 regular season, were shut out by the Eagles, who won the championship with a dreadful 7-0 victory.

“It was more of a pushing game,” Trippi recalled. “No one could see the lines. The ball players just couldn’t react the way they wanted. I think the fans were deceived by seeing a real league game.

When the Cardinals – now in Arizona – made their first Super Bowl appearance in 2009, Trippi was thrilled with their success and shot hard for another championship.

“Well, I never gave up hope,” he joked before the big game, “but I had a bit of trepidation there for a long time.”

Alas, the Pittsburgh Steelers eliminated the Cardinals 27-23, so the Trippi-led championship remains the franchise’s newest.

He played nine seasons with the Cardinals, lining up pretty much wherever he was needed. Trippi started as a halfback, moved to quarterback for two seasons, and ended his career playing mostly defensive back. He was also the punter in addition to excelling as a kickoff and punt returner.

In 1968, Trippi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He was responsible for 53 regular-season touchdowns during his career: 23 rushing, 16 passing, 11 receiving, two on punt returns and one on an interception return. For good measure, Trippi has averaged 40.3 yards as a punter, had four career interceptions and had 13 fumbles.

Coming from a brutal sport in which far too many people died too young, Trippi defied the odds by living in a second century. He was a dynamic figure for much of his life, raking leaves and cutting grass until he was 90 at his home not far from Sanford Stadium in Georgia.

Trippi was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959. Nine years later, in a brief speech marking his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he thanked those who helped him along his journey, including his high school, his university and the NFL. coaches.

“I’m glad I played football,” Trippi said.

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